Soldiers of Christ: Armed for the Supreme Battle
The Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost
Sister Mary Cabrini, O.P.
The sacrament of Confirmation should be another Pentecost for each of us. As the Apostles were transformed by the infusion of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, so our souls are similarly affected through these gifts. Our true purpose in life is to reproduce the Christ-life in our souls. Archbishop Luis Martinez says that we can best accomplish this through the Holy Ghost and Mary, just as God did in the Incarnation…“In the same way in which Jesus was brought into the world, for God gives a wonderful mark of unity to all His works. ‘He was conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.’ That is the way Jesus is always conceived. That is the way He is reproduced in souls.” (True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, Martinez) Therefore, a greater awareness of the operation of the Holy Ghost in our souls is imperative.
What are the gifts of the Holy Ghost
Our souls have the intellect for reasoning and the will, which is free to choose. Some gifts enlighten our minds, making us alert to comprehend and grasp God. The other gifts urge our wills forward to do God’s will. The gifts of the Holy Ghost are seven powers that compel us to the practice of virtue. Each gift perfects a specific virtue. The gifts are like a sailboat; the virtues are like a rowboat. No effort is required on our part to use the gifts of the Holy Ghost. They are given freely to us, unlike virtues, which are acquired by repeated acts. The gifts are ready at a moment’s notice so that the mind and the will may act promptly.
At Baptism these gifts were infused into our souls with sanctifying grace, the theological virtues, and the moral virtues. In Confirmation these gifts are strengthened and perfected, making us spiritual adults. It is as if we were given real weapons as infants, but we cannot properly wield them until we are older. Not only does God arm us for the battle, but He also directs us when to use each gift. We have no excuse for being cowards, defectors, or traitors. In sorrows, temptations, and doubts, the Holy Ghost will guide our soul according to the particular struggle, bringing forward the weapon suited to the battle.
Four Gifts for the Intellect
All actions find their source in the intellect with a thought or desire. Every deed begins with a thought. Sin, also, begins in the mind but is activated by the will. So the Holy Ghost, divine Guest of our soul, presents us with four intellectual gifts. Three of these help us form judgments; one helps us perceive ideas.
Wisdom aids the intellect in judging things divine. Wisdom, the greatest gift, perfects charity, the greatest virtue. Wisdom gives the soldier of Christ the love and delight to enlist in the army of Christ. His intellect recognizes Christ’s cause as the greatest banner under which to serve. St. Thomas Aquinas says, “With respect to God, it is better to love Him than to know Him.” (Summa Theologica, I,Q.82, article 3) Wisdom helps us practice the virtues in the highest degree because we consider God as the highest good in life, and we will do all that is necessary to reach Him. With wisdom active in our souls, we will long for the mountaintop to be with our transfigured Lord. Gazing down upon the earth, we will exclaim that it is good to be with God. As soldiers of Christ we know that we dedicate our hearts to the greatest Commander that we could possibly serve.
We cultivate wisdom by longing for it and asking God for it. Saint Thomas Aquinas exemplified this gift when Our Lord offered him a reward for his great writings, and he desired nothing but God alone.
Understanding gives our intellect the power of penetration; it improves our spiritual vision. It assists us to see wonders of faith, to penetrate profound truths, perfecting the theological virtue of faith. On Pentecost Jesus sent the Holy Ghost to teach the apostles all things, in an instant. Their theology was infused, without study. For us, this understanding comes in a flash to reveal the wonderful harmony and reasonableness of our faith, shining a spotlight on the lives of Jesus and Mary, the Mass, the sacraments, the commandments.
With this gift, the soldier of Christ can penetrate the General’s purposes, heart, and plans. It enlightens his mind when a lieutenant gives commands contrary to the will of the General. The soldier will detect and distinguish the defective leadership. In the same way, understanding assists the virtue of faith helps us discern truth from falsehood. Not only do we grasp truth, but also understanding enables us to detect the enemies of error and heresy. Even when the General delivers His truth in secret code, such as parables and mysteries, understanding helps the soldier of Christ to decode the message.
To cultivate understanding we should pray for a lively and simple faith to believe all Christ taught, because He is God and cannot deceive. We cultivate this gift by reading and studying the catechism and other religious books.
Counsel is the third gift that assists our mind, helping us judge a course of action. It perfects prudence, which Saint Thomas teaches is the greatest of the cardinal virtues. Counsel and prudence keep our lives on an even keel, preventing rash decisions.
The gift of counsel is our adviser in the battle for our soul. In battle, the soldier must apply the strategies of the general. Often the enemy surprises us, ambushes us, or sets obstacles in front of us. With counsel, we can be prevented from these enemy traps. We are alerted to danger. It prompts our intellect to see clearly the path we must follow. Counsel helps us overcome timidity and uncertainty, enlightening and directing us. “When we work under counsel’s directions, our decisions will be quick, sure, and audacious.” (True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, Martinez) What a blessing to have such an unfailing, all-knowing adviser as our soul’s guest!
We cultivate counsel by acknowledging our weakness and turning often to the Divine Counselor. We must be quiet to hear His voice. Then He will guide us in every decision.
Knowledge helps our intellect to judge creatures in their relationship to God. It perfects the theological virtue of hope. We will place our heart in heaven where our treasure awaits us. This gift is not philosophical or theological knowledge, acquired by human effort as in school. This gift helps us view created things as rungs on the ladder by which we ascend to God. It is a prism that separates the mundane into a beautiful spectrum of God’s goodness.
True soldiers cherish the goal of victory. They do not settle down in the valleys where they trudge. They do not rest in the enemy territory, nor become attached to its natural beauty. Their motivating spirit is to return home victorious. They yearn to celebrate with their general in their homeland. So knowledge detaches us from the vanity of creatures, enabling us to put the events of life in proper perspective. It shows us that temporal things can give us only a passing pleasure, but they cannot give us lasting happiness. It guides our intellect as we choose a career, a place to live, and a person to marry – in the way that best leads us to God.
We cultivate knowledge by using created things as a mean, a ladder, to reach heaven.
Three Gifts for the Will
The will is the faculty of our soul that chooses between right and wrong. Original sin has weakened our will, so these gifts support our hesitation and vacillation in serving God. The gifts of the will nurture two essential qualities of every loyal soldier, obedience and courage. They empower the will to follow the strategy of Christ, our valiant, victorious leader.
Piety leads the will to give God His proper service. Piety perfects the cardinal virtue of justice, compelling us to give God what He deserves. The will of God becomes our battle shield, our “breastplate of justice.” Piety urges us to worship God as He has commanded and to honor Him with great conviction.
Soldiers must march daily to keep prepared for battle. Precision drills demand exact coordination with the other soldiers and the one giving the commands. As spiritual soldiers we must march to the beat of Christ’s drum — steadfastly obeying all the commandments of God and the Church. By our enlistment in the army of Christ, we are infused with love, reverence, and loyalty to God. Our royal service elevates our daily actions to supernatural deeds worthy of reward. Soldiers exhibit tremendous valor, conviction, and commitment. Nothing is more honorable; nothing is nobler than a loyal soldier. As soldiers of Christ, we will not question the rules, motives, or commands of the general. Piety helps us overcome our inherent self-centeredness and always give the glory to God. It enables us to practice virtues such as justice, obedience, humility, religion, confidence, zeal, gratitude, and prayer.
Piety is cultivated by desiring to do God’s will at every moment and offering even our ordinary actions as acts of love and service.
Fortitude is the weapon of the will that fights danger here and now. This gift assists the virtue of fortitude. We are inherently weak, so we need a superior strength. Fortitude gives us power over our will to be patient, generous, and persevering. It strengthens us for the act of martyrdom, but it also sustains us in the daily, dry martyrdom.
Fortitude embodies the bravery of soldiers — spiritual soldiers, strong with the strength of God. As holy warriors, we will be ready and daring to battle against our own disordered passions, falsehood, human respect, and sinful persons. Actual soldiers require tremendous discipline in battle. There can be no hesitation, no indecision, no misplaced loyalty, no feeling or emotion. Fortitude disciplines our will to rise above these weaknesses. In heat of the spiritual battle, it removes the hesitation and doubt that often paralyze us. It helps us follow God’s will, no matter how difficult to our pride and vanity.
We can cultivate fortitude by distrusting ourselves and looking to God for our strength. Though our wills are weakened as a result of original sin, in God we will be able to do all things
Fear of the Lord
Fear of the Lord removes us from sin and gives us hope in the power of God’s help. There are many fears that show weakness of soul: fear of blame, fear of failure, and fear of punishment. This fear, however, is noble because it is born of love. It is a loving fear that children and lovers possess, who fear to offend or be separated from the beloved. This filial fear makes us abhor the least offense against God, giving us a tender conscience. It keeps us humble before God our Father so that we do not minimize sin. Nor will we have a lax conscience. Fear of the Lord perfects the cardinal virtue of temperance, which regulates our passions keeping them within the boundaries of God’s laws.
Soldiers will rally to fight under the banner of a victorious general. They have little fear under his leadership. The only fear they would experience is the fear of disappointing their leader. Like soldiers, we must firmly will to follow Christ on the path of holiness. We want no detours, no sin, no insubordination, and no defection from the army of Christ. Fear of the Lord will give us this grace of humble reverence for God.
Cultivate this gift by daily examination of conscience, recalling the great price of our Redemption. Then consider how great an offense sin is against such an all-good God. We can say, “A contrite and humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 50:19)
Through Confirmation we are armed for battle; Christ is our Captain; the Holy Ghost is our soul’s Guest. He determines our strategies in the daily struggle against our spiritual enemies. We trust Him because His wisdom and vision far surpass that of finite human vision. Our battle plan consists in using the sacraments often, following His laws, and embracing His truth whole-heartedly. Christ our Captain can infallibly guide us to eternal victory. Victory is guaranteed. We need only be loyal soldiers. God forbid that we should neglect our souls when we have had the wonderful sacrament of Confirmation and so many graces at our disposal. We can pray with Saint Therese, “Arm me for the combat. I burn to do battle for Thy glory, but I pray Thee to enliven my courage. Then with Holy David I shall be able to exclaim: ‘Thou alone art my shield: it is Thou, O Lord, Who teachest my hands to fight.’ ” (Sweet Guest of the Soul)